As part of the fanfare surrounding K&M Tire’s 50th Anniversary, Tire Review had the opportunity to sit down with Ken Langhals, founder and CEO, and Cheryl Gossard, president, to chat about the company’s core values of making a positive impact in their communities and taking care of their valued customers, who they feel are a part of their extended family.
Through this executive interview, we bring you insights into K&M’s continuous process improvements and how the company says its commitment to always do what is right for the customer has been, and will continue to be, the focal point of every business decision they make.
Congratulations on the 50th Anniversary of your company – that is such a huge accomplishment. What does it feel like to have reached this milestone?
Cheryl: I am really proud of this accomplishment because it represents all the hard work that my father has put into the company for the past 50 years. To me, it is more than just the number; it is more about celebrating doing business the right way for the past 50 years. We started as a small business with family values. It was easy to do this in 1970 when there were only a few employees, but to keep this intact and a part of our culture today is what is worth celebrating.
Ken: I feel very fortunate and very blessed to have so many great customers and employees who have made this possible.
What do you hope this milestone and celebration mean to your employees? Your customers?
Cheryl: I hope our customers know they can count on us. Our focus from day one was to make the customer the most important person in our business and to provide fast, friendly service, and 50 years later, we are still focused on this. I hope our employees are as happy and as proud as I am on the company that they helped build.
Ken: I hope it shows that we are very thankful to have the best and loyal employees and customers and that we plan to be here for many more years to work with them and be here for them.
Ken, you founded K&M Tire in 1970 with only $100. That’s just an unbelievable entrepreneurial spirit. Describe your mindset at that time, and how you laid the foundation for the very successful company you have today.
Ken: For the first 25 years, I just wanted to make enough money to pay the bills, make a modest living and repay the debts I owed from my previous business. I also learned a lot through experience and gathering information during those first 25 years. By then, I had some great employees who wanted to help grow the business to be the most trusted provider of tires in our area by providing our customers with competitive prices and fast, friendly service.
Cheryl, describe what it’s like to work with your father and your role as the company’s president.
Cheryl: My father has been my mentor. He has taught me most of what I know, especially when it comes to my work ethic and dedication to continuous improvement. Working with my father has been a tremendous opportunity and a wonderful experience for me.
My role as president is to set the direction for the company and ensure the management team is aligned and doing the right things in the right way. When this is not happening, it is my job to correct it.
Were there any bumps along the way in the company’s growth? And, if so, how did you overcome these challenges?
Cheryl: In any business, whether you are growing or not, there are daily decisions that have to be made. The key is to address issues and concerns timely before they grow and take over the culture. Our team talks a lot about SOSD – See It, Own it, Solve it, and Do it. As long as SOSD is used and practiced, there might be tough conversations and tough days, but things run fairly smooth.
Ken: As most business owners know, there are many challenges with running a business and dealing with employee concerns. I find that we can overcome most challenges by working with our good employees and let them help come up with the best solutions.
Do you have a particularly fond memory that comes to mind when thinking back over the past 50 years?
Cheryl: It is really hard to just pick one. I have many fond memories early on when my father was teaching me when I started 25 years ago. I had many questions, and he would sometimes give me the answer but most of the time he would point me in the right direction. This taught me how to dig into things and really figure things out.
Talk about your mission statement: “We are dedicated to continuous improvement and providing our customers with quality products at competitive prices with fast, friendly service,” and how it has served as the guiding principle of your company over the years.
Cheryl: Our mission statement describes who we are and how we think. Our daily internal conversations with our teams are always centered on either customer service or continuous improvement or both. When we bring new people into our organization, if they are not wired this way, they normally do not make it long. It is a way of life at K&M.
K&M owns and operates 30 distribution centers throughout the Great Lakes, Midwest and Great Plains regions. Describe the pace of this growth over the years, and are there expansion plans into other states in the near future?
Cheryl: Most of the growth took place in the last 10 years. We have been fortunate to have a good team that works really hard. Most of the growth has been acquisitions, and we have been lucky that most of the companies we purchased had some really good people that fit our culture well. We are happy with our current footprint, but we are always willing to look at opportunities as they present themselves.
Describe how the culture of K&M has impacted the products and services you bring to the market and the company’s profitability?
Cheryl: The culture of K&M is to do what is right. That means we will not sell products that we do not feel are good quality. We do not try to push sales to our customers if we do not feel it is the right thing for them to do. We do not push a particular brand of tires if we feel a different brand is best for our customers. We are willing to lose a sale rather than get in a bidding war and race to the bottom. Our eighth core value is to provide a fair deal for everyone. That means it has to be good for both the customer and us.
What are the most significant opportunities for the tire industry in the next few years? What challenges do you anticipate?
Cheryl: I am not sure I can predict what all the opportunities will be. If we just look back over the past two years, there have been many surprises. Our goal is to accept the urgency of accountability and necessity of change, so when something does happen, we are agile and able to move quickly to take advantage of any opportunity we have.
As far as challenges, I see hiring and retaining entry-level employees as a continued challenge for the next year or two.
Describe K&M’s role in helping dealers take that next step in growing their profitability, creating memorable customer experiences and improving as leaders in their business?
Cheryl: The goal of our annual dealer conference is to do exactly what you described above. However, this is a once-a-year event, so we have a large team of outside salesmen who are contacting dealers multiple times during the year meeting with them one on one working on these items.
What do you feel have been the most important factors in the success of your business over the years?
Ken: The most important factor is our dedicated employees. Also keeping a profitable, well-funded business so we can take advantage of opportunities when they come.
Where do you see the most opportunities in the short- and long-term for your business?
Cheryl: We need to do a better job of developing our people and having a deeper bench of people ready to take on more responsibilities and bigger roles. We recently hired a Manager of Talent Development to help us create and implement a roadmap for this.